You did the right thing.
You knew that the chances of finding a lost dog are significantly higher if it has a microchip, so when you adopted your dog, you made sure it had one.
The person who chipped your dog reminded you to register your microchip and put your contact information on it so a shelter could find you if you lost your dog. After getting home, you register your dog’s chip.
In the next few years you move 3 times as you scaled the corporate ladder. Not long after you moved into your latest home, your dog slips its leash and runs away after someone shot off fireworks.
Panicked and frantic, you spend the next few day days looking for your dog and putting up lost dog posters. You also call animal control to see if they had your dog.
A week later you still haven’t found your dog, so you go to the animal shelter with its picture to double check if anyone has seen it. When you show a staff person your dog’s picture, they say someone adopted it a couple of days ago.
After going through phases of shock, anger, and distress, you remember that your dog has a microchip that shows it belongs to you. You tell the staff person your dog that has a microchip, but she tells you the chip was registered in another state and the phone number on the chip was disconnected. She also called the company that made the chip but no one returned her calls.
Since they couldn’t identify the dog’s owner from the information on the chip, they put it up for adoption.
This is not an uncommon story.
Most states require municipal shelters to hold a dog for a few days before listing it for adoption. Washington requires a three day hold but it can vary by jurisdiction. Private rescues must hold dogs several weeks and make an effort to find its family before adopting it.
If the dog’s owner doesn’t claim it before the holding period expires, the shelter or rescue can legally adopted your dog to anyone else. In the stories I’ve heard, the dog’s owner asked the shelter if they could contact the family who adopted your dog, but most shelters won’t provide it to protect adopters’ privacy and discourage the original owner from harassing them or stealing the dog.
You could ask the shelter to contact the adopter, explain what happened, and ask if they would return your dog, but the adopter is under no obligation to do it.
You could also hire a lawyer to convince a judge the make the adopter return the dog to you, but as I said, the dog legally belongs to her, so your lawyer won’t be able to do much (other than charge you hundreds of dollars an hour).
The bottom line here is that if your lost dog’s microchip information isn’t current, there is not much you can do to get it back if the shelter held it for the required amount of time before adopting it out to someone else.
This is particularly important if your microchip was purchased from an unreliable company. As I wrote last week, you should buy microchips from companies that have a unique prefix number on their chip to show they manufactured it. These companies keep current data bases with their customer’s information and can usually match the id number on their chip with the person that bought it.
But if your dog’s chip number has a 900 for a prefix, it could have been made from one of several less reliable companies that don’t keep records of who buys their chips. Some don’t even have a number you can call. This makes it extremely difficult for shelter staff who are already incredibly busy to figure out which company made your dog’s chip.
So please, remember that you have the best chance of finding your lost dog if you get a microchip from a reputable company and ensure the information on it is always current.